Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has done extensive research on charitable giving and calculated that Americans are by far the most charitable people in the world.
No developed country approaches American giving. For example, in 1995 (the most recent year for which data are available), Americans gave, per capita, three and a half times as much to causes and charities as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians. Similarly, in 1998, Americans were 15 percent more likely to volunteer their time than the Dutch, 21 percent more likely than the Swiss, and 32 percent more likely than the Germans. These differences are not attributable to demographic characteristics such as education, income, age, sex, or marital status. On the contrary, if we look at two people who are identical in all these ways except that one is European and the other American, the probability is still far lower that the European will volunteer than the American.
And that's true not just for American charities. While official U.S. government aid to developing countries often takes a front seat in Americans' minds of places to cut wasteful spending, private individuals and organizations in America have long outpaced the government in charitable giving to developing nations.
While progressives and celebrities continue to lament America's supposed lack of empathy for other countries, charitable giving from Americans - supported by private philanthropy - is astounding.
2012 may turn out to be a historic year in charitable giving, bolstered by federal government policy uncertainty. Talk of limiting or eliminating tax deductions has some Americans emptying their wallets for charity, before the federal government potentially decides to tax their charity.
Tax uncertainty in Washington is setting off a mad scramble among wealthy taxpayers and charities to maximize donations before the end of the year.
Their worry: The tax deduction for charitable giving, a fixture of the tax code for nearly a century, is coming under pressure as part of a broader fiscal agreement now being hammered out on Capitol Hill.
Irving Plotkin, an economist and philanthropist in Cambridge, Mass., who has had a charitable account with Vanguard for a decade, said he has tripled his donation so far this year. He added that he might donate again before year-end if Congress imposes deduction limits for 2013.
For an example of how Americans go big for charities during the Christmas season, check out this video below about volunteers for a New York-area charity.